WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 26, 2011
Today we will examine the role of the National Labor Relations Board in corporate campaigns. I realize this is a general definition of the term, but a corporate campaign is a union effort to disrupt an employer’s routine business. The campaign can take the form of negative advertising, complaints filed against employers with various government agencies, and can even include appeals to political and religious leaders to put pressure on a targeted employer.
The intent of these tactics is to undermine the reputation as well as break the will of an employer who refuses to accept union demands. In some cases, an employer can either concede to demands that may undermine the success of his or her business, or accept public contempt, government penalties, outside interference, and extraordinary litigation costs. Regardless of the potential outcomes, these campaigns can have a detrimental impact on a business’ bottom line and threaten the livelihood of its workers.
Over the years the use of corporate campaigns has accelerated. According to one study, between 1974 and 1999, only 200 corporate campaigns were identified. Yet in 2005 it was estimated that between 15 and 20 corporate campaigns were underway at any given time. And recently the National Labor Relations Board has taken a number of steps to expand the arsenal of tactics available for a corporate campaign.
The board has removed bannering restrictions previously placed on boycotts of neutral employers. Employees of onsite contractors have been granted greater access to the property of the contracting employer connected to organizing activity. The board has also requested briefs that could allow even greater access to an employer’s property.
In one case, the board moved to uphold an election tainted by intimidation of workers because the intimidation originated with “nonparties” to the election. According to the Board’s logic, the outcome of an election can be overturned only when the threats by nonparties are “so aggravated as to create a general atmosphere of fear and reprisal rendering a free election impossible.” Who will determine when a “general atmosphere of fear and reprisal” exists? The worker who receives an anonymous call at their home and hears a voice promising to “get even” if the worker opposes union representation? Or a federal bureaucrat?
Actions taken by the federal government can send shockwaves across the country. At a time when our economy is struggling to get back on its feet and millions of Americans are desperate for jobs, employers and workers are paying close attention to the actions taken by leaders here in Washington. Policymakers in the nation’s capital must understand that even the most modest action can have a dramatic effect on our economy.
The action taken by the National Labor Relations Board against The Boeing Company is a good example. While the facts are still in dispute, the outcome of the case may significantly alter the manner in which employers invest in our economy and our workforce. I recognize the case is in the early stages of what will be costly litigation. But I wonder if anyone seriously doubts the tremendous implications this case poses to our workforce, and could possibly deny Congress’ responsibility to consider those implications, ask questions, and determine what is in the best interest of our workers and their families.
Although this is just one of many cases presented to the NLRB, we must remember the board does not operate in a vacuum. It is an arm of the federal government, and its decisions govern virtually every private workplace in the nation. That is tremendous power that comes with a great responsibility to act on behalf of the public good. I am concerned the board has jettisoned this responsibility over the last two years in favor of an activist agenda designed to advance the cause of Big Labor over the rights of every day workers.
The committee has pledged to make job creation and American competitiveness its leading priorities. We have a job to do and that includes overseeing the various boards, agencies, and departments within our jurisdiction to ensure they do not undermine the strength of our workforce. Today’s hearing is an important part of that effort.